November 2011

Mea culpa, feathered friend

By David Feela

If animals lived painless lives, then I’d believe in the literal Eden, where the human species earned its lumps by behaving contrary to the rules of the garden. But animals have suffered and died along with the rest of us since the beginning of time, and so I wonder about the whole concept of innocence going unpunished. Many people blame the serpent; many more blame the goose. Biologists would have us believe that geese—the Canada goose in particular— have moved into residential areas of the Southwest because of the disappearance of wetlands, urban sprawl, and the sheer adaptability of a species so recently pulled back from extinction, but I suspect they’re gathering to witness my golfing.

I only take my golf clubs out once every three or four years, when our friends visit from California. Cliff is an excellent golfer; I lug my old clubs around trying to understand the burden life would have become had I been born a mule. During our last game, we prepared to tee off down the fifth fairway. Eight or ten geese stood off to the side, foraging in the well-manicured lawn. Then again, the geese might have been pretending to forage but were actually snickering among themselves at the way golfers wiggle their rear ends while preparing to hit what to them must look like a little white egg. I’ll admit to being slightly intimidated with everyone watching (geese included), but my friends have a sense of humor. Geese reportedly have a mean streak.

Cliff lofted his golf ball beautifully down the center of the fairway, a pictureperfect drive that left him just short of the green. I addressed my golf ball next, adjusted my stance, stirred up the air, and then took my swipe at that confounded object that frustrates so many golfers. My drive barely lifted eight inches off the ground and sliced immediately toward that gaggle of geese. It struck one of them hard, incited a boisterous chorus of squawking, and I watched in horror as the confused, injured goose turned and bit one of its companions out of what appeared to be humanly spite.

Cliff pulled the scorecard from his pocket and said, “Well, that’s definitely not an eagle, but I’m willing to put you down for a birdie.”

After that incident, I was branded: No matter where I went, along the irrigation ditch bank or through our beautiful city park, the geese seemed more numerous, and every goose granted me a wide berth. Experts say that in the last 30 years the Canada goose has increased its fold from a mere million to an estimated excess of 5 million. These numbers may add up to success for waterfowl management efforts, but they also mean a municipal mess for many grounds workers who try to maintain the lush, Edenlike appearance of our area parks.

And honestly, there’s nothing natural about acres of well-manicured lawns. Consider the expense of elaborate irrigation systems, the aggressive fertilizers and weed-kill chemicals spread across all that sod to keep it shiny green, and the obscene waste of gallon upon gallon of that precious commodity called water. It’s unfortunate that a goose wedging its way south can’t help pausing to take a closer gander. Our parks may be as enticing to geese as the state of Arizona or Florida appears to our own species of snowbirds.

Geese have become such a nuisance on golf courses and park grounds that the management in many areas has been forced to find ways to discourage the birds from staying. Discharging explosives, electrifying grazing grounds, designing obstructions to discourage any descent onto ponds, training dogs to chase the flock around the clock, and even undercover poisoning have been tried all across North America, and all with little permanent success.

The geese have stubbornly settled for a reduced version of paradise in the elaborate grasslands we’ve reserved for our own recreation. And guess what else? Because every paradise comes with its own serpent, that part, it seems, may have fallen to golfers like me.

David Feela writes from Montezuma County, Colo.